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Keep it simple, Kashmiri ‘haakh’ style

Don't let cooking be a chore. Use this simple Kashmiri recipe to cook various winter vegetables like turnip and kohlrabi—and they all taste different

(left) Kashmiri-style turnip; and kohlrabi with lotus stem, both cooked using the same recipe.(Photographs by Nipa Charagi)

By Nipa Charagi

LAST PUBLISHED 15.02.2024  |  02:00 PM IST

A woman is asking the vegetable vendor to discard the stems and leaves of the kohlrabi (ganth gobi in Hindi) she has just bought. The Kashmiri in me is appalled. "But the leaves are tender", I can't hold back. The woman explains that she does not know how to cook the vegetable, and uses the bulb, in salad form.

As I have done on a few other occasions before, I do my little spiel, telling her how easy it is to cook, the Kashmiri (Pandit) way, without spices, and flavoured just with hing (asafoetida). (It's the same recipe which is used to cook the Kashmiri staple of haakh, or collard greens, and can be applied to a range of vegetables, from turnip and radish to bok choy and spinach.)

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The vegetable vendor, who has been listening intently, shoves the bulbs with the leaves intact in the woman's carry bag.

Also Read: How many ways can you cook lotus stem? Ask a Kashmiri

During winter, kohlrabi and turnip (shalgam in Hindi) are my go-to vegetables. There has also been that rare occasion when both have turned up on the lunch plate, in different forms: mutton-shalgam, and kohlrabi.

Growing up in Kashmir, I might have at times detested eating haakh or monje (as kohlrabi is called in Kashmiri) for lunch practically every day, but two decades of cooking have made me appreciate the ridiculous simplicity, and wholesomeness, of this minimal-ingredient, no-fuss recipe. Basically, why fiddle with something which is inherently good?

Perhaps this is why I tend to zone out when a recipe calls for a dozen or more ingredients, the use of a food processor, and “kaju paste and cream"—we all have had those narangi-coloured dishes with swirls of cream on top which call for 25 different things, yet taste of nothing.

Now, for the recipe: peel and chop/dice the vegetable of your choice (turnip/kohlrabi/radish). Wash thoroughly and drain. In case of the latter two, use all the tender leaves; you can tear them into two or three if they are big. In a pressure cooker, heat mustard oil (use as little as you want to keep it healthy) to smoking point and add hing. If you like a bit of heat, add a whole red chilli or two at this point. Next add the sliced/diced vegetable and sauté for 4-5 minutes; it should not change colour. Now add the leaves, and some water. When the leaves wilt a bit, close the lid and give one-two whistles on low flame. After opening the lid, add salt to taste, some green chillies, and water as required—the vegetables should be partially submerged. Let simmer for 5-10 minutes and you are ready to serve it with rice.

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Kashmiri-style radish or 'mooli'.

When it comes to how much oil to add, whether you want it soupy, and what texture of the vegetable you want—mushy or still to retaining its shape—you will find your comfort zone once you have cooked these dishes a couple of times.

My paternal grandmother, for instance, used to be generous with oil and frugal with water. What this does is concentrate the flavours—somewhat akin to having your rice with a smidgen of pickle.

Do note that the haakh recipe has a bit of a deviation. To prevent the leaves from singeing in the hot oil, a little amount of water is added first before adding the leafy greens to the pot.

Coming back to the recipe; you can build on it. For instance, you can add lotus stem to the kohlrabi, turnip and radish. Chuck in the peeled, diced (one-inch long, washed) lotus stem before closing the lid of the pressure cooker—of course, stir it all together. The slight crunch of the lotus stem compliments the butteriness of the other vegetable. In the case of kohlrabi, you can add fried brinjal (the small, long variety one, cut lengthwise) towards the end—when you open the lid and return the pressure cooker to heat. Let it simmer for 5-10 minutes, so that the brinjals absorb the flavour and are soft to touch.

Use the same recipe to make spinach—an imitation of haakh. Lotus stem can be added to this too. At times, I have added boiled chickpeas, or diced and fried paneer, depending on what is at hand. Such intense is the Kashmiri craving for replicating the flavour of home that the recipe has been executed on broccoli and cabbage too. But this gets tricky, if either of these vegetables is overdone, the dish becomes unpalatable.

Now that summer is approaching, Kashmiris will be following the same technique to make lauki (bottle gourd)—here, whole zeera (cumin seeds) is added to the oil along with the hing. On the suggestion of a cousin, I have subjected the much-reviled tinda to the same formula. It works. I am now planning to try this method on ‘bathua’.

Also Read: Don't want to chop onion and tomatoes? Make these Kashmiri mutton ‘koftas’